Cold and Unfriendly: The State of Our World?

Last Friday, I had a long, socially distanced chat with my almost-80-year-old volunteer lady. Halfway through, she started talking about her funeral arrangements. As an elderly person living alone and with no immediate relatives, this is a big concern for her. She said: “I’m so glad I’m on my way out. The world is a cold, unfriendly place. There’s no compassion nowadays. Do you agree?”

I didn’t have an answer for her, but I’ve been thinking about it this week. Is the world really getting worse?

The Bad

It’s easy to see why many people claim that the world is getting worse. Aside from the fact that there’s a pandemic threatening the lives and livelihoods of people all around the world, we are facing a climate emergency, political division, and an ongoing battle against various sorts of discrimination. Additionally, there is the growing problem of loneliness to deal with, which can be as potent a killer as smoking 15 cigarettes a day (source: Quartz).

This is what my volunteer lady misses in today’s world. Because of disabilities, she can no longer go out and meet new people, and the ones that she knows are equally elderly, frail and housebound. Compounded with Coronavirus, this makes for a lonely life spent on her own in front of the TV.

Although loneliness is often discussed in terms of the elderly, it is just as big a problem with young people. According to a Mental Health Foundation study in 2019, 27% of young adults feel isolated, and 46% don’t have someone to speak to about their emotions. Undoubtedly, the pandemic has made this problem even worse.

thoughtful young woman looking through blinds of window in daylight
Loneliness affects large segments of the population, not just the elderly.

The Good

Despite these issues, the world has become a better place. Here are some encouraging points to consider:

Almost all of us live better than the richest segment of the population 100-200 years ago. We have running hot and cold water, heating and/ or air conditioning, 24-hour on-demand entertainment through TV, books and the internet, and the opportunity to easily and quickly travel wherever we’d like to go. Additionally, basic necessities are cheap compared to most of our salaries, which leaves some money left over for entertainment and to secure our retirement.

When it comes to fighting global hunger and poverty, we have progressed. While 15% of the global population was undernourished in 2000, today it is under 9% (Action Against Hunger). This is a hopeful sign that global poverty can be eliminated in the future.

woman holding tomatoes
Many parts of the world are experiencing a decrease in extreme poverty.

Over the last century, massive steps have been taken to promote equality. Women, racial minorities and LGBTQ+ people have been given equal rights in many areas of the world. These measures are not enforced as they should be and problem is by no means solved, but there is a lot of awareness and it is encouraging to see how the fight continues.

What do you think? Is the world getting worse or getting better? Or does it depend on who you are?

A plug for volunteering

Either way, we all have a choice in the matter. We can all do something to make a difference in someone’s life, no matter where we live and what our personal circumstances are. Volunteering doesn’t have to be time consuming, expensive or tedious. You can choose a task that appeals to you and fits with your schedule.

Personally, I’ve been visiting the same lady for almost three years. Every week, I call her on the phone, bring her some groceries, and (Covid permitting) chat with her for an hour. It’s a nice way for me to get involved in my community and for her, it’s a lifeline and a break in her routine. If you are in the UK and looking to do something similar, AgeUK and GoodGym are great places to get started. If volunteering with elderly people doesn’t appeal to you, there are many other options:

  • Conservation and gardening work
  • Taking care of homeless pets
  • Working at a homeless shelter or food bank
  • Volunteer tutoring children and young adults
  • Volunteer delivery driving
  • Mentoring a refugee

What is your favourite way of volunteering?

The 20-Minute Standing Workout For Tiny Spaces

Do you want to work out, but your room is too small to put down a mat? Or are you outside, but it’s too wet or dirty to lie down? Here’s a solution for you: A whole-body workout, done entirely while standing up! All you need is an elastic band and a little bit of floor space, and you’re ready to go!

This workout will be displayed entirely in pictures. I suggest going through all of the exercises 2-3 times to get a good workout, then adding in some stretches at the end. If you need more detailed instructions, you can find most of these exercises in The Body Project section of this blog. You can also have a look at my 20-minute full-body workout.

Ankle Warmup: The Running

Tread through your feet. You can hold on for stability. 10-20 times each foot.

Calf Strengthening: First Position Raises

Start with your toes pointing outwards, your heels touching. Lift and lower your heels, legs straight. 15-20 times.

Calf Challenge: Single Leg Raises

Lift and lower your heel. Keep your standing leg straight. 15x each leg.

Glutes and Legs: The Wonderwoman

Start with your legs wide, toes pointing out. Bend, stretch, lift, lower. 15x.

Leg Challenge: Wonderwoman Pulses

On your last Wonderwoman, stay down as low as you can and pulse 2-3 inches up and down. 15 pulses.

Leg Challenge 2: Wonderwoman Lower and Lifts

After your pulses, stay with your legs bent and lift and lower your heels. 10x.

Cardio: Frog Jumps

Jump, with your arms up in the air. 15-20x.

Biceps: Curls

Complete 15 reps, then you can keep your elbows bent and do small pulses for 15 counts.

Triceps: Bend and Stretch

Complete 15 reps, then you can keep your arm straight and do small pulses for 15 counts.

Stretch: Roll Down

Have you ever done a standing-only workout? What are your favourite standing exercises?

The Power of The Atomic Habit

A month ago, I made a bold statement. In an effort to pursue a dream I’ve had since childhood, I said that I would write fiction for at least 10 minutes every day for the rest of my life.

Have I followed through? So far, it’s a resounding yes – every single day, often longer than ten minutes.

There are multiple reasons for my success so far. Let’s examine them, using concepts from James Clear’s book Atomic Habits, which I read last month.

The First Law: Make It Obvious

Clear states that you need cues for your desired habit in your environment. This could be another habit (e.g. after lunch, I will always write) or a set time and place (e.g. At 1pm, I will write at my desk). For me, the key was my notebook. I kept it visible on my desk and every day, it would remind me of the fact that I still have to write today.

The perfect kit to make the writing habit visible (and attractive)!

The second Law: Make it attractive

Your habit needs to be desirable to you. You can do that by pairing a fun activity with the habit, making friends with people who are already doing the habit, or doing something enjoyable right before the desired habit. I joined an 8-week creative writing course which provided me with engaging and interesting content every week, as well as fellow writers to exchange critiques wit.

The third law: Make it easy

The harder it is to get started, the more unlikely that you will regularly do so. That’s why your new habit needs to be easy. For example, I really want to work on staying active, so I bought a bike. Now, the evident choice for me is to cycle to work. Hopping on my e-bike is much easier than walking to the train station, paying for a ticket, catching 2-3 trains, then walking again to get to my destination.

To make the writing habit easy, I decided on only 10 minutes a day. Working from home has opened up a lot of extra time for me, so it’s extremely easy to spare this amount of time.

The fourth Law: Make it Satisfying

Our brains are wired to strive for immediate rewards. However, in our modern society, these are almost always counter-productive. Immediate rewards are produced by actions such as eating fast food, watching TV and spending money, whereas long-term rewards are produced by eating healthily, exercising and saving for the future. To ensure that you stick to your habit, attach an immediate reward to it, such as crossing it off on a chart.

The writing course I am doing provides this. Every time I complete a sub-unit, I can click the ‘completed’ button, and at the end of each week, there is a page to congratulate me on my success. This motivates me to complete each week on time.

An appealing visual reward for my progress!

Extra Habit Tips

Along with these four basic rules, James Clear mentions some other helpful tips to stick to your habits.

  • One small habit won’t make a difference but, hundreds of them stacked on top of each other will. Everything starts with a small change, so get started today.
  • Choose habits that suit you. Not everyone’s pre-disposed to do everything, so if you choose something you have an aptitude for, you will do better and be motivated by your success to continue.
  • Design your habits so that they’re slightly above your current skillset. If they’re too easy or too hard, you’ll never stick to them.

What habits do you want to start? Which one will you start with?

Mine are:
Write every day
Practice portion control and avoid snacking while working from home
Increase my level of exercise
Drink more water

An Investment Guide For My Mother

Recently, my mother has asked me to help her figure out DIY investing. So far, her financial advisor has taken care of everything – and things aren’t so bad, are they? After all, she’s seen moderate growth. Unlike some of her peers, at least she hasn’t made a loss.

Maybe it’s the same for you and your son or daughter has always been good at finances. They confidently manage their own money and are even aiming to retire early. For years, they’ve urged you to take charge of your own finances.

Or maybe it’s the other way round, and your parents are begging you to finally take control of your financial life.

The bad news is that even an average person can lose a spectacular amount of money in management fees. If you pay a 1% fee to your manager per year, this will reduce your returns by 31% over a 40-year time period (source: Wall Street Physician).

The good news is that you don’t have to rely on anyone to manage your money. You can do it yourself and instantly cut your fee in half or more. It’s never too late to start. Let’s see how.

DISCLAIMER: This article is for informational purposes only. Always do your own research before investing and if you are in doubt, consult a professional.

Step 1: Forget Everything (You Think) You Know

I started investing at age 25 and it was a very easy, smooth process. Before pressing that ‘BUY’ button for the first time, I did my own research on websites such as:

Mr Money Mustache
Banker on FIRE
Monevator

I didn’t have bad role models, years of misinformation and a financial advisor who tried to convince me to buy expensive and under-performing investments. Sometimes, not knowing anything is a blessing.

That’s why I’m asking you, as a first step, to forget all you know about the stock market. Pretend you’re a newbie and keep an open mind.

clueless woman in white dress shirt
Ignorance is bliss! At least, when it comes to obscure stock picking strategies.

Step 2: Learn About The Basics

Successfully investing and maximising profits is actually extremely easy. Here’s really all you need to know:

Buy low-cost global index funds and hold them forever, until you need the money for retirement.

That’s it. No buying, no selling, no options trading or currency exchanging. These things are risky because nobody can accurately predict the market.

So, why does everyone try? The answer is human nature. The index investing strategy is too boring for many. “I made a 60% profit in the stock market this year by trading options” is much more exciting than “I turned my 100k into two million by letting it sit in an index fund for 40 years”. Humans are biased towards the present – they want to act, to achieve wealth in the next year or two. Unfortunately, luck almost always runs out at some point. Someone might make good trades for a year, or even ten. But over a lifetime, almost nobody can beat the market. In almost all cases, a simple index fund will serve you better.

Here are two index investing tips:

  1. Invest in a global index fund. This is a fund containing the largest companies in the world. Index funds follow an index (such as the S&P 500 in the USA or the FTSE 100 in the UK), so that your investment returns will reflect the overall movements of the stock market. They don’t depend on a fund manager’s ideas, biases or preferences, they are impartial.
  2. Keep your total annual charge under 0.5% per year. For example, I have an investment account which charges me 0.15%. In this account, I’ve bought a fund that charges me 0.22%. My total charge per year is 0.37%.

Step 3: Find Some Proof

This all sounds great, doesn’t it? Of course you want improved returns – and if you don’t have to do any trades, that’s even better! But I’m just some random person on the internet. How do you know you can trust this information? What if it’s all a big scam?

Let’s look at some facts from trusted publications to back up my claims:

  • MarketWatch: Over the long term, you have a 95% chance of outperforming your active manager if you just invest in an index fund. Read the detailed statistics here.
  • Investopedia: Warren Buffett made a bet against a hedge fund manager, claiming that an index investing strategy would beat the actively managed funds over 10 years. Despite a sharp drop in the first year, his investment ended up gaining over 85%, whereas the hedge funds gained 22%, proving that a simpler, passive strategy can beat even highly skilled active investors.
  • Stanford University: You can read the same reasoning and conclusion by William Sharpe, Professor of Finance.

With most types of index investing, you can expect a return between 7-8% annually. It’s the slow, steady way: although it doesn’t sound like much at first, it can quadruple your money in twenty years, and x18 it in 40 years (assuming 7.5% return).

space grey ipad air with graph on brown wooden table
A simple index fund can x18 your money over your investing lifetime.

Step 4: Decide On Your Strategy

Ready to give it a go? Now, it’s time to think about how you want to start. there are two main methods people usually invest:

  • Lump sum investment: This means that you invest all of your money at once and buy a large amount of your chosen fund(s).
  • Drip feeding/ dollar cost averaging: With this strategy, you invest a smaller amount more frequently. For example, if you have a lump sum of £50k that you want to invest, you split this in five and invest £10k every month for five months. This way, if there happens to be a drop in the market, you don’t lose a large chunk of your money and you have the opportunity to buy in at the lower price.

On average, lump sum investing beats drip feeding, but it can feel a bit risky. If it’s your first time DIY investing, a dollar cost averaging strategy could be more suitable.

Additionally, consider starting small. Keep most of your money where it is and start with 1-5% of your portfolio. That way, you can ease into index investing and it will feel less scary. Once you are more confident managing your own assets, you can increase your holding.

Step 4: Set Up Your Own Account

Now that you’ve decided how much to start with, it’s time to find an investment platform. This is where you will buy and hold all of your investments. Usually, the big banks charge outrageous fees, so you will have to look at smaller, likely online-only options. Not every broker will be suitable for every person. This depends on the size of your portfolio, what type of account you are looking for, and how often you’d like to buy new investments. Here are some resources that could help:

Step 5: Choose Your Funds

Again, not every fund is appropriate for every investor. Some people pursue an aggressive investment strategy, with 100% of their assets in stocks, while others choose to add bonds and even cash to smooth out the returns.

Personally, I hold between 90-95% stocks because I am young and am not planning on using most of my invested assets in the next ten years. If I were close to retirement, I might hold some more cash in case of a downturn in the market. I wouldn’t want to be forced to sell my investments when they are very low!

Step 6: DO NOTHING!

The hardest step comes last. Now, you need to just leave your fund alone. Unless you want to spend the money, don’t touch it! As discussed in Step 1, this may not come naturally to you if you’re used to fiddling with your investments every month or quarter. But remember the statistics. Unless you’re extremely lucky, index investing is the best chance you have.

short furred white and brown cat lying on gray and black sheet
With regards to investing, laziness pays off!

Have you ever considered index funds as an investment vehicle? What other pointers would you give your friends and family members?

Getting Rich: You Have Two Options

If you want to become a millionaire, spend a few weeks on social media and learn how to become an affiliate marketer, trade bitcoin or flip some phones. That’s it – no university, education or job needed.

Or is it?

Last week, Banker on FIRE posted an excellent article entitled A Guaranteed Way To Get Rich. He states that all the rich people he knows “did it the boring way”, by getting a job, saving and investing for the long-term. This got me thinking about the wealthy people I know. What made them rich? Here’s a breakdown, from most to least common:

  • Lawyers, doctors, etc.: Got a high-paying job and saved 10-30+% over the years, plus took advantage of tax breaks. By age 60, these families can retire comfortably.
  • Business owners: Several clients of mine are CEOs of their own or their family’s company. They are more often not just comfortable, but properly rich (think private driver, live-in maid).
  • Luck: One family owned some farmland that got re-zoned and sold for £££. It does happen occasionally!

I was surprised at the small amount of variety – I didn’t realise that there are really only two ways to achieve wealth, unless you are incredibly lucky. The choice seems binary: get a 9-to-5 and save, or start a business and save.

You can easily reach financial independence by getting a high- or even average-paying job and saving diligently. However, to reach the 0.1% status, the most efficient way is to start your own large company. It is doubtful that selling courses about how to get more Twitter followers will get you there, but according to my small sample size, starting out on your own is the right idea. If you want a shot at becoming the next billionaire, don’t get a 9-to-5, start a business.

Not For Everyone

But do you really want to become the next billionaire? None of the CEO clients I know are young – and none of them are ever going to retire. They are people in their 60s, 70s and 80s, going into the office every day. Their work is their passion and their life. If this sounds like you, starting a business could be a great option. If not, sticking to your job is likely the better option.

person using macbook
All day, all night: A large business owner never stops.

My Choice

Personally, I am somewhere in between. While I am not aiming to create a billion-dollar business, I am also not working a typical 9-to-5. As an independent teacher, I can set my own hours, choose how many and what type of clients to accept, and decide when to take my holidays. Instead of asking for time off, I can tell my clients when I’m not available, and we schedule around those times.

At the moment, I am choosing to work 4.5-5 days a week. However, my type of work is easily scalable and in the future, I might decide to drop down to 2-3 days. I really enjoy the work I do, but unlike the high-powered business owners, I have a great number of other interests as well. In the long run, I want to be able to pursue all of them to a certain extent, and the most failsafe way to get there is to work hard and save diligently.

Take-Away’s

Here are my personal take-away’s from this somewhat rambling post:

  1. People usually build up wealth in one of two ways: working a traditional job and saving/investing, or starting a business.
  2. While you can easily reach financial independence with a 9-to-5, many of the richest people seem to have started their own company.
  3. Being a business owner is hard work and requires unique focus. It’s certainly not for everyone. If you want to be financially independent and you enjoy a range of activities, a more traditional job may be the better path.
  4. Another option is to pursue self-employed work and choose how many hours you put in. This is the path I have chosen.
  5. All this doesn’t mean that you can’t try to start a side business, such as publishing blank notebooks, and see how it goes! If you keep your main line of work, there’s no risk involved and you might end up somewhere you never imagined.

How about you – which option would you choose, and do you think you’d be cut out to be a business owner? How did the people you know become wealthy?

10-Minute Stretch: A Simple Routine For All Major Muscle Groups

Do you stretch enough? If you’re like most people, the answer will be no. While many people make the effort to exercise regularly, they often forget to complete their stretches afterwards. Here’s a simple and quick routine that targets all major muscle groups.

Spend 10 minutes on these stretches after your regular exercise. Always perform them when you’re warmed up to prevent injury and make the routine more effective.

1. Roll Down (Hamstrings)

From standing, roll down until you can feel a strong stretch behind your legs. Stay there and every time you exhale, let yourself sink more into the stretch. Take 4-6 breaths.

2. Mermaid Stretch (Obliques)

Sit in a comfortable position, e.g. cross-legged, with your legs out straight, or on a chair. Lift one arm and bend your body sideways until you feel a strong stretch. Then, switch sides. Repeat this exercise twice, staying in the stretch for two breaths each time.

3. V Stretch (Adductors)

Sit with your legs stretched out to the side. Lean forwards as far as possible. Stay there and every time you exhale, let yourself sink more into the stretch. Take 4-6 breaths.

4. Swan Stretch (Back)

Lie on your stomach and press up into a backbend. If your back is tight, you can keep your elbows down on the ground. Repeat this stretch three times, staying up for two breaths each time.

5. Lower and Lift (Calves)

Start on hands and knees and push up until you are in a pike position. Lower and lift your heels, feeling a stretch in your calves each time the heels drop towards the ground. Repeat 10-15 times, taking one breath per movement.

6. Hip Twist (Lower back and hips)

Lie on your back with your legs in the air and arms stretched out to the sides. Swing your legs to one side, keeping the shoulders on the ground. Twist your head the other way. Stay for 4-6 breaths, then switch sides.

7. Figure Four (Rotators)

Lie on your back and lift one leg up, then cross the opposite ankle over the knee. Pull your leg in towards you. Stay there and every time you exhale, pull the leg closer by bending your elbows more. Let yourself sink more into the stretch. Take 4-6 breaths.

8. Lunge (Hip Flexors)

Start on all fours and step one leg forwards into a lunge. You can keep the back knee on the ground or lift it up. Stay for 4-6 breaths on each side.

That’s it – eight easy, tool-free stretches you can do after your workout. If you want to delve deeper, don’t forget to check out the relevant Body Project articles linked in the exercise titles.

Which stretches do you like to do every day or week? Do you think you stretch enough?

Getting A £3000 Electric Bike: My Least Frugal Purchase Ever

Since coming back from Switzerland, my Mustachian ways seem to have gone out of the window. I’ve purchased 10 items on Amazon, treated myself and my volunteer lady to takeaway meals and ice cream, and – most shockingly – bought a brand-new £3000 electric, foldable GoCycle.

Brand-new and shiny: my GoCycle GX

Have I abandoned frugality forever? Was last week’s money-saving post a last feeble attempt at denying my new spendypants ways? Or is it all part of a bigger plan that actually makes a lot of sense? Let’s examine.

The Damage

First, let’s look at the damage done over the past two weeks. Here’s a list of my purchases, from most to least extravagant (and excluding everyday grocery items).

  1. GoCycle GX with mudguards and a new pump: £3020
  2. Portable phone charger (for Google Maps when biking): £15.99
  3. Tools for baking (bowl, cookie cutter, etc.): £10.37
  4. Takeaway fish and chips and ice cream: £9.30
  5. PPE (for avoiding pollution while biking and for visiting clients): £7.09
  6. Spices for baking: £6.66
  7. Waterproof Backpack Cover (for biking and hiking): £5.85

Total Damage: £3075.26

The Reasoning

Upon closer examination, most of the smaller purchases are quite standard. I was re-introduced to the joys of baking when staying with my family this summer, so it makes sense to get some tools and ingredients. They’ll probably last for a really long time. And making a lonely older lady happy is well worth £9.30 – especially as the chips and ice cream were really good.

This leaves us with the bike-related purchases. In his book Atomic Habits, James Clear mentions how one purchase often leads to others. The above is a perfect example of this. Not only did I buy the bike, but also £80 mudguards, a £40 pump, a phone charger, a backpack cover, and some PPE. Although these secondary purchases are minor, they do add up. Luckily, I am more or less kitted out now and will be able to avoid further purchases for a while. I already have lights and two locks from my previous bike.

The Bike

There are many frugal ways of obtaining a bike, such as getting a swytch kit for a current bicycle, getting one second hand or buying a budget version. So why did I decide on the GoCycle?

First ever ride!

The main reason is psychological. Cycling to work won’t be easy for me. Unlike others, who use their bikes for recreation or for a short commute, I will be covering serious distances with it. My main commute is 10 miles one way, but I may have to visit 1-2 other clients on the same day, which means I could be biking for 30+ miles in a single day. On top of that, I will be teaching 4-8 Pilates sessions and lugging the bike up and down stairs.

Like most people, my motivation levels are finite. However, with a high-quality bike like the GoCycle, there really are no excuses:

  • The ride is incredibly smooth and fun. It will be a pleasure to cycle with such a powerful bike.
  • It’s foldable and can be taken indoors, so no danger of it getting stolen.
  • The fold is secure and ergonomic, so it’s easy to take up and down the stairs. It’s also not as heavy as I’d anticipated.
  • I paid £3000 for a bike. That is too much money to waste! I have no choice but to take the bike.
Meeting a fellow ebike enthusiast on the road

While another option would have been cheaper, this one may be a longer-term solution. Time will tell whether I’ll consistently use it, but the odds are in my favour.

The Numbers

Let’s take another look at the numbers. The bike specialists told me that the battery will last for five years, so we can take this as a timeline – even though the frame is likely to last significantly longer.

If I were to ride on the London public transport system, I would need a Zone 1-3 travelcard. Currently, this costs £1648. Let’s assume a £50 increase per year (ca. 3%).

Year 1: £1648
Year 2: £1698
Year 3: £1748
Year 4: £1798
Year 5: £1848
Total: £8740. WOW!

If I use the bike:

Initial cost: £3050
Annual maintenance (guesstimate): £200
Annual public transport use (guesstimate): £300
Total: £5 550

That seems like a steep discount, even with a £25 public transport budget per month! I am excited to see whether these figures are correct in the long-term and how this new lifestyle change works out for me.

The Verdict

What do you think? Crazy, completely rational – or something in between? Would you ever get an electric bike for commuting?

You might also enjoy:
Are You Coast FI Yet?
5 Steps to Your Set-And-Forget Notebook Selling Business
Dealing With The Dark Days

Stretching and Age: Debunking the Flexibility Myth

“You can’t do dance. You’re not flexible and besides, you’re already 13. Too late.”

“You’re 17? No way you can learn the splits now.”

In my teens, I stopped telling people about my ambition to dance. Everybody seemed to think it was impossible. If you aren’t trained from age three – or, better, born flexible, then there’s no chance you can ever catch up. But is this true?

There’s no doubt that children have an easier time becoming flexible than adults. This has a physical reason: as we grow older, our muscles and tendons become weaker and more rigid, which means they have a harder time supporting full range of motion. In addition, the amount of lubricating fluid and cartilage in your joints decreases. Some of these changes are due to lack of exercise, so if you keep active, you may experience these changes to a lesser degree.

However, an arguably even bigger difference between children and adults is how we learn. When I was four, my mum took me to the ice rink to skate. There were training aids designed to be held on to so that young beginners could skate safely without falling. The first time, I used these and had a lot of fun zooming around. But the second time we went, I refused. No matter how much my mother argued, I wouldn’t hold on to the aid and instead, spent two hours on the ice, falling down and getting back up.

“I was so frustrated,” she tells me now. “You just kept landing on your bum. But you didn’t seem to mind, so I left you to it. And by the end of the afternoon, you could skate!”

two children inside of ice skating field
Leaving the penguin-shaped training aid behind!

Kids aren’t afraid of trying and failing until they get it right. Once we grow up, all kinds of emotions inhibit this process: fear, embarrassment, overthinking … We have decided on our identity and if a new thing doesn’t ‘fit’, then we won’t even try. For example, many people come to my Pilates sessions saying: “I’m not flexible”, “I’m not a gym rat” or “I’m not at all coordinated.” In other words: “I’m not the kind of person who can be good at this.” They are always surprised by the progress they see – and some even end up revising these negative beliefs.

So, can I still become flexible?

Not only that – you must! Increased mobility is associated with a lower risk of falling and injury and a higher life expectancy! According to Harvard Health:

A well-stretched muscle more easily achieves its full range of motion. This improves athletic performance — imagine an easier, less restricted golf swing or tennis serve — and functional abilities, such as reaching, bending, or stooping during daily tasks.

Harvard Health Publishing

Not only did I end up learning to do the splits at age 17, but I learned them in all three directions. Of course, if you are not pursuing a dance career, you will have different goals. Check whether you are able to achieve all of these:

– Touching your toes with straight legs. More advanced: Palms flat on the floor.
– Sitting on the floor, legs stretched out, without leaning backwards or rounding your back.
– A Pilates swan (back bend) with arms straight.
Adductor stretch (sitting on the floor in a V and leaning forward).

If any of these feel difficult, it could be an indication that you need to stretch more. Let’s discuss some strategies to make your stretching even more effective.

When should I stretch?

You should always stretch when you are already warmed up. Although small stretches are okay to do before a workout, it is more effective and safer if done after you’re properly warmed up. For example, you could take 10 minutes at the end of your workout to stretch.

How often should I stretch?

How often do you exercise? Ideally, you’d stretch for at least 10 minutes after each workout (3-5 workouts a week is optimal for most people). If you are not seeing any progress, think about the time you dedicate to your workouts versus your stretching. Are you really putting an equal amount of effort into both?

How long should I hold a stretch?

I like to think in breaths instead of not seconds when holding a stretch. Get into the position, then inhale. As you exhale, let your muscles relax and deepen the stretch. Inhale, hold. Exhale, go even further. Repeat 4-6 times and then gently come out of the position. Depending on the speed of your breathing, you’ll be holding and deepening the stretch for 30-60 seconds.

What tools do I need to stretch?

None. You can stretch all muscle groups with no tools at all. However, if you’d like to vary your workout, you can get an elastic theraband. These bands are small, cheap and portable and provide an great variety of strength and stretching exercises.

What stretches should I do?

Stay tuned for next week’s post, where I go over some important muscle groups and how to stretch them.


What other stretching questions do you have? Which stretches do you struggle with the most?

Five Unique Money-Saving Tips You Never Knew

You’ve heard it a thousand times. Don’t get your coffee at Starbucks, plan your meals, buy a secondhand car, think before you shop, and optimise your bills. These are some of the most common money-saving tips out there, and for a reason. They really work. But what if you’re already doing all of this? Could you take it a step further? Today, I present to you five top tips to optimise your savings while enjoying your life to the maximum. Remember: spending less doesn’t mean living less!

Tip 1: Free Books With Mturk

Do you love to read? Are some of your favourite books not available in your local library? If so, this is the tip for you. No matter where you live, you can start earning Amazon vouchers on Amazon Mechanical Turk today. Simply complete some tasks on their site and redeem your earnings for an Amazon.com voucher. Voilà – your free Kindle e-books await.

Read my previous post for a detailed review and a guide on how to earn 100s on Mturk.

Bonus benefit: If you live in the USA or India, you can redeem your Mturk earnings for a paypal payout instead of Amazon vouchers, which turns this money-saving tip into a full-blown side hustle.

Tip 2: Don’t pay for variety

At £15-20 per week (or, around $20), my weekly grocery bill is extremely reasonable. However, this doesn’t mean that I survive on beans and toast. I buy similar staples and necessities each week and then I spice things up with food I find on Olio.

This app lets both individuals and restaurants share spare food with others. If someone received a gift they don’t like, bought too much of something by mistake, or is going on holiday and has some food left over, they can post the surplus on Olio. Other community members can then request it and pick it up. Listings are very diverse, so you can try out new dishes every week. For example, I received garlic bread, fresh beans and coconut biscuits this week.

If you do use Olio regularly, remember to also give back and list your own unused items for others to collect.

Tip 3: Make $1 million cutting your own hair

According to The Financial Imagineer, your fancy haircuts are costing you $1 million. At least, by the time you’re in your 80s or 90s. Without a doubt, it’s an extra expense that may or may not be worth it. If you’re interested in the why’s and how’s of cutting your own hair, check out his excellent post:

The Million Dollar Haircut

photo of person s hairstyle
Will this cost her $1 million over time?

Tip 4: Get regular inspiration

“I’ve listened to JL Collins audio book ‘The Simple Path to Wealth’ over and over again. It’s helped me spend less then I earn, avoid debt, and invest the surplus. […] This book is a great reminder of the right things.” – Christon Petersen

Like Christon, I go back and re-read the articles I first learned from. When we find out about frugality and financial independence, we’re motivated and inspired, but over time, it’s easy for the newfound good habits to slip. To avoid this, re-read the resources that got you started, interact with others who are on a similar path, and find new books/ articles that reinforce the message.

Tip 5: Replace your staples

Coffee, tea, multivitamins, mouthwash … our daily staples are not unreasonably expensive, but they do add up. Can they be replaced by something simpler and cheaper?

Banker on Wheels has lots of experience when it comes to choosing the simplest and most effective alternative. In his own words: “Having cycled close to 15,000 kms over the past months in different parts of the world […], climates and conditions while being exposed to different germs and viruses I have discovered what really works in terms of saving money […] and staying healthy.”

He offers substitutes for all of the above mentioned staples and more in his post, Health and Money Saving during COVID-19.

What’s your unique money saving tip? What do you do differently than other people when it comes to spending and saving?

If you enjoyed this article, be sure to subscribe to my Friday newsletter! You might also like:
Double Finance Challenge: Elastic Expenses and Excellent Earnings
I’ve Lost 50% of My Income: How Come I’m Okay With That?
The Long Road to Financial Independence: Kat’s Journey

What Would Your Childhood Self Say?

I stared at the words on my small, cracked phone screen and a knot formed in my throat. Looking up, I furrowed my brows and thought about the question someone had shared in a Facebook post.

What would your childhood self say if she saw you now? Would she be proud of your achievements? Would she be happy to call herself a younger version of you?

It’s an interesting one because like most people, my life certainly didn’t turn out how I thought it would when I was really young. I never imagined myself living in London, teaching German and Pilates and aiming for financial independence. I think my childhood self would have very mixed emotions if she saw me now.

Confusion and Surprise

At first, she would be confused. How did I even get here? What were the thousands of little decisions that led me to my current home and line of work? My life has taken several unexpected twists and turns that would need to be explained. Among them: my time spent in the dance world, the year living in NYC, my reasoning for moving to England, and the mechanics of a freelance career.

Disappointment

She would almost certainly be disappointed that I haven’t written that great novel yet. “You haven’t even started on it? But you’re old, what are you waiting for?” she would ask. And she’s perfectly right. It’s time to get started – it’s now or never. Today, I commit to writing for at least 10 minutes every day for the rest of my life.

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Time to put pen to paper and fill that page!

Delight

However, it’s not all bad. Certain aspects of my life would surprise and delight her. She can’t even sit cross-legged, so she’d be thrilled by my ballet skills and ability to do the splits. And she would be amazed at my financial achievements and how I managed to save a sizeable chunk of money on a slightly-above-average income. I was always a saver, but investments were faraway, adult things back then and I’m sure the new knowledge I’ve acquired would impress her. I also like to think that she would enjoy this blog, the tales of my travels in the USA, and the blank book publishing venture.

The benefits of this exercise

I found this exercise very useful for evaluating my life so far. It highlights the things I thought I’d do but never did – such as writing – and also reminds me of all the unexpected, wonderful things that happened to me along the way. Many of them I couldn’t even have imagined. For example, I had no idea as a child that you could still start ballet at 17. Even at ten, I thought that world was closed to me forever. And I didn’t know that financial independence was an option, otherwise I almost certainly would have been fascinated by it even back then.

In this way, the benefit is two-fold:

  • You re-discover the areas you missed out on and can re-evaluate whether they are still of interest now. Are your childhood dreams still applicable? If so, go and pursue them now! It’s not too late.
  • You discover all the great things that happened to you, which your childhood self could never have predicted.

What about you? What did you dream of achieving when you were young? What would your childhood self say about your life now?

If you enjoyed this article, check out my recent Generational Wealth series and another reflective post, Looking Back and Looking Forward. And don’t forget to subscribe to receive my weekly e-mail newsletter!